Enzymes are protein-based molecules that enable the breakdown of food into smaller, usable components within the body. Many of the most common digestive complaints, such as bloating, gas, heartburn, and upset stomach, can be due to a lack of digestive enzymes. There are three digestive enzymes with specific jobs to do:

  • amylase and other carbohydrase enzymes break down starch into sugars (maltose, glucose, and fructose)
  • protease enzymes break down proteins into amino acids
  • lipase enzymes break down lipids (fats and oils) into fatty acids and glycerol

Amylase is produced in the salivary glands, pancreas, and small intestine. One type of amylase, called ptyalin, is made in the salivary glands and starts to act on starches while food is still in your mouth. It remains active even after you swallow.

Pancreatic amylase is made in the pancreas and delivered to the small intestine. Here it continues to break down starch molecules into sugars which are ultimately digested into glucose by other enzymes. This is then absorbed into the body’s blood circulation through the wall of the small intestine.

Protease is produced in the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. Most of the chemical reactions occur in the stomach and small intestine. In the stomach, pepsin is the main digestive enzyme attacking proteins. Several other pancreatic enzymes go to work when protein molecules reach the small intestine.

Lipase is produced in the pancreas and small intestine. Besides breaking down fats and oils, lipases play many roles, including long-term energy storage and supporting cellular health. A type of lipase is also found in breast milk to help a baby more easily digest fat molecules when nursing.

Enzymes are essential for many other functions within the human body besides digestion:

  • delivering nutrients to the entire body
  • transport of toxic waste
  • blood clotting and blood purification
  • supporting kidney and liver function
  • delivering hormones
  • balancing cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • strengthening the immune system

Enzyme Deficiency

Digestion begins when we see and smell our food. When we salivate, we begin to release digestive enzymes. But many of us may not be producing enough enzymes for proper digestion. There are several reasons for this:

  • a diet lacking in vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes which the body requires to make enzymes
  • overheating enzyme-containing foods; (above 118F [47C])
  • a diet of processed and packaged foods which contain very few, if any, enzymes
  • eating food that is enzyme depleted due to exposure to air and light
  • drinking fluoridated water which paralyzes the enzymes in saliva
  • pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, and cancer of the pancreas will decrease your enzyme levels
  • gall bladder removal and pH imbalance will inactivate or deplete enzymes
  • antibiotics may inhibit enzymes essential to the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut
  • fever; enzymes function best at a normal body temperature
  • as we age our bodies produce fewer enzymes
  • eating food standing up, while driving, while watching tv, etc. basically being distracted during eating

Intermittent binging on a large meal may have undesirable effects like indigestion, nausea, or even diarrhea if you don’t have enough enzymes readily available to aid in digestion. And some of the enzymes we need are not produced by the human body and must be obtained in the food we eat. So, eating a nutritious diet from regular, moderately sized meals and staying in good health will keep your enzyme levels high and help your body produce, store and release enzymes efficiently. Consult with your colonic Hydrotherapist to see how you can improve your diet for maximum enzyme function and to determine if you need a supplement.

Some digestive enzymes not produced in the human body can be very helpful when taken as a supplement. These include cellulase which breaks down plant fiber (cellulose), invertase which breaks down refined sugars, and pectinase which breaks down phytates. It is very important that phytates and phytic acid are broken down. (Phytic acid is found in seeds, legumes, and grains.) If not, they can bind with calcium, magnesium, and zinc in the intestine, blocking the absorption of these important minerals.

Stress can have a huge impact on the production and secretion of digestive enzymes (and stomach acid). When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system takes over. This is called our fight or flight state. In this state, our body diverts blood away from our organs towards our muscles so that we can deal with the stress and “fight or run away”.

So, if we eat food in this state, we don’t digest it efficiently because there is no blood, oxygen, enzymes, etc. to help with the breakdown of food. This causes bloating, gas, leaky gut, heartburn, diarrhea and/or constipation, etc. We all have stress in our lives, but eating in a rush, eating when standing up, eating while driving, etc. contribute to this stress state even more.

When we are relaxed and calm, our bodies turn to the parasympathetic state, which is the “rest and digest” state. As you can guess, our blood flow goes back towards our internal organs – including our digestive tract. This allows us to digest our food properly and secrete the enzymes we need.

Taking supplemental digestive enzymes will not cause your body to stop producing its own. As food sits in the upper portion of the stomach, the body calculates the number of enzymes it needs to digest the food. If supplemental enzymes do some of the work of digestion, the body can allot more energy to make metabolic enzymes for functions such as cell repair. If you stop taking supplemental digestive enzymes, the pancreas will return to producing more of its own digestive enzymes.

There are lifestyle behaviors that you can incorporate to help your body secrete enzymes at the right time:

  • be mindful when you eat, avoid distractions like TVs, phones, etc., and sit down at the table
  • chew your food properly, enzymes can only do much to break your food down. Chew each bite until it’s all liquid, then swallow. This can be considered the one mechanical enzyme we have that helps facilitate the chemical enzymes listed above.

Take a moment before you begin eating. Say grace, say the favourite part of your day, and meditate for 5 minutes whatever is important to you and your family. This is a moment that help brings you out of the sympathetic (fight or flight) state and can put you into the parasympathetic state (rest and digest)